But it only costs $20! Or $10. Or even just 5 measly bucks. So what’s the big deal? It’s remarkably easy to lull myself into thinking that a couple dollars spent here or there won’t amount to a hill of beans (oh but there are so many things one can cook with a hill of beans… ).
When I start to think this way, I remind myself that frugality is a compounding game. Or more accurately, money is a compounding game: either it compounds in your favor if you’re saving and investing (gold star!), or it compounds to your detriment in the case of debt (sad face, boo).
Rarely do our financial decisions exist in a vacuum. Rather, our spending habits are ingrained grooves that we repeatedly grind along. Whether it’s as catastrophic as continually maxing out credit cards we have no ability to pay off or as pedestrian as shopping every week at an expensive grocery store (cough Whole Foods cough); we are what we repeatedly buy. And our ultimate financial destiny is enshrined in the spending decisions we make on a daily basis.
But I’m no a devotee of onerous, multi-part budgets or time-intensive coupon cutting ordeals. No indeed. My easy trick is to simply embrace frugal habits, which provide a lifetime of savings with very little effort. I’m all about efficiency and repeated, autopilot frugality is by far the most efficient means of not parting ways with your money.
Don’t Sweat The Small Cents
In the vast ocean of money-saving tips and tricks, how does an emerging frugal acolyte decide where to start thrifting? Easy, my friends. Focus your frugal energies on reducing–or ideally eliminating–your continual, repeated expenses.
After you comb through every dollar you spend in a given month (I recommend using Personal Capital for this task), isolate the things that crop up on a regular basis. For most folks, these repeat offenders are things along the lines of: groceries, household supplies, insurance, haircuts, custom-made guinea pig outfits, restaurant meals, clothes, chainsaws… you know, the everyday stuff of life.
By reducing (or banishing) your spending in these “repeat offender” categories, you’ll permanently lower your overall spending each and every month. As you’re performing this expense review, don’t get caught up in the “necessities” mindset and simply gloss over something like an astronomical grocery bill thinking it’s a sacred cow. Yes, food is a necessity, but expensive food is most certainly not.
This might require changing your mindset or your approach–for example, if you have a haircut that’s entirely too complex to cut at home, then your might consider transitioning to, well, a more manageable haircut. This is the lifestyle shift element of frugality. It’s not only about spending less, it’s also about creating a simpler life where your require less money in order to achieve happiness.
Banishing Repeat Expenses: The Haircut Edition
One of my fave examples of a repeated expense are haircuts. Why? Because most people get haircuts and most people pay for them. And given the fact that hair continually grows, most people find themselves paying for thousands of haircuts over the course of their lifetime. What if I told you that I’ll let you in on the one secret trick to snaring free haircuts for the rest of your life? Ok, it’s not actually that much of a secret–all you have to do is cut your own hair at home (or have a friend/partner/spouse cut it for you).
When I first started cutting Mr. Frugalwoods’ hair at home four years ago, I couldn’t predict just how much money this would save us over the course of a month, a year, or a lifetime. In retrospect, that’s exactly what I should’ve calculated, if only for my own affirmation. Now in hindsight, I can perform this favorite exercise of mine: calculate how much we’ve saved over the years.
For his very first buzz cut (the style my main man rocks), Mr. FW trotted off to the barber and slapped down $23 for his ‘do. As anyone with a buzz cut will tell you, this is an absurdly high price for two reasons:
- Buzz cuts are not a difficult style
- S/he who has a buzz cut must get said hair buzzed approximately twice a month in order to not appear shag-a-riffic*
Hence, we can bust out our frugal calculator (which, by the way, is the same calculator I’ve used since high school) and do a bit of figurin’:($23 per haircut x 2 haircuts per month) x 12 months in a year = $552. Not bad! Oh but wait, we’ve been DIY buzzing for four years now, which gives us a grand total of $2,208 saved, which is more money than we typically spend in two months’ time. Dang, people.
Now we did have to purchase these Wahl clippers for our buzzing escapades, but this one-time expense of $18.99 has paid for itself many times over.
Change Your Mindset: Save $$$!!! Yay.
Hold onto your garage sale-sourced seats because we don’t just DIY Mr. FW’s haircuts, we DIY mine too. Being a lady, who previously wasted waaaaaaayyyyyy too much money/time/effort on my appearance, I used to indulge in $120 (that’s with tip included) haircuts four times a year. For those of you following along with your frugal calculators (or your epic math brains) I spent an embarrassingly high $480/year on my hair. Yikes.
I was a slower convert than Mr. FW to the DIY cut. I basically delayed getting my hair cut for close to a year because we’d commenced our extreme frugality regime and thus, I didn’t want to get my absurdly expensive salon cut. Nor did I see the point in spending $20 at a cheaper joint when I knew we could cut it at home for $0. But I had to first change my perspective. I’d previously dropped so much dough on my grooming because I was under the mistaken impression that I needed to. I went through an entire process of disavowing perfectionism–especially as it pertains to my appearance–which ultimately liberated me from a whole slew of beauty-related expenses (not to mention the amount of time these rituals consume). I’d fallen for our culture’s clarion call for women to look a certain way, and I was paying for it dearly.
When I finally let go of caring what other people think, I was free to do what I wish with my hair–which, as it turns out, is have my husband cut it in our bathroom for free. And you know what? Not a single person noticed this change in my hair regime. I didn’t lose my job. No friends deserted me. I wasn’t suddenly less of a woman. A salient lesson for me in the universal truth that no one cares how we live our lives as much as we do ourselves.
After getting myself right in the head, I began my campaign of imbuing Mr. FW with the confidence that he could manage my haircut and that I wouldn’t divorce him if it turned out badly (actual conversation). I’ll admit, we were both fairly tense as the scissors neared my locks, but then, Mr. FW’s heretofore hidden talent as Vidal Sassoon sprung forth and my hair turned out great–with layers and angles around the face and everything!
JK guys, it wasn’t a hidden talent–we just watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to cut hair. Life really is easy thanks to the internet. I then wrote this step-by-step how to so that you too can cut your hair at home! Hesitant about a home haircut? Chew on this: hair will grow back; your money won’t.
The Compounding Nature of Frugality
Continuing on with the haircut example… since Mr. FW and I have permanently converted to our free, DIY, at-home haircuts, we’re now set up to reap the benefits of these cost savings for the rest of our lives. We’ve saved a combined $2,688 thus far, and will continue to save $1,032 every single year (probably more since I imagine the cost of haircuts will increase with inflation).
Of course these savings on their own are not all that earth-shattering, but when we couple our haircut savings with our thriftiness is all other aspects of our lives, that’s when the magical unicorn of compound interest takes flight. Essentially, the more you save, the less you spend, the less you spend, the more you save, the more you save, the more you invest, and…. the richer you grow (and then financial independence, pursuing your passions, blah, blah, blah).
Ok so you get that this saves us money. But did you know that there’s a trove of other beneficial elements related to the DIY route? Read on, fair frugalite!
1) We learned a new skill.
When we were paying for our haircuts, we weren’t accruing any benefits beyond merely getting our fur trimmed. Conversely, with our DIY approach, we advance our self-reliance and our own personal reservoir of knowledge. Let’s be honest here, no one ever yells into a crowd “Help! Does anyone know how to perform a DIY HAIRCUT???!!!” but it’s a skill that’s socked away in our pantheon of abilities nevertheless.
Realizing that we’re capable of doing things ourselves opened a door for Mr. FW and me to start performing tons of tasks on our own–baking our own bread, felling our own firewood, grooming our own dog, re-plumbing our own pipes… the list is endless. Because with each new thing/problem that crops up in our lives, we first try to figure it out ourselves. If that fails, then we call in the experts. But far more often than not? We’re able to insource it.
2) It’s a relationship-builder.
Would you like to spend more time with your friends and/or loved ones? What better way than by giving them a haircut! Laugh all you want, but we usually have great conversations while clipping each other’s locks. It’s dedicated, quiet time together. Same goes for all the other projects we perform.
There’s also an element of learning to problem-solve together. Mr. FW and I don’t agree 100% of the time, nor are we nice to each other every moment of every day. But what we’ve recognized is that having a strong framework for working through challenges–be it how to unfreeze a pipe or how not to bicker when we’re stressed–is vital.
Every time we collaborate on a project together–such as planting our vegetable garden the other week–we hone and refine our partnership and communication skills. Much like a garden, a marriage is a living, breathing entity that requires tending (awww, homestead metaphor). Continual collaborative work is an excellent way to strengthen and expand the framework of a relationship. And if you just thought “but we fight every time we try to do something difficult together!” then I challenge you to tackle a project as a team and figure out the pressure points that cause arguing to erupt.
3) Saves time.
Rather than trek all the way to the barbershop, wait in line, drive all the way home, etc, we simply trot into the bathroom and, 15 minutes later, emerge with a fresh ‘do! There’s a fallacy that outsourcing always saves times, and while that is sometimes the case, it’s also true that the embodied time of outsourcing sometimes far outstrips the time it would take to DIY. I’ve literally spent more time writing about our haircuts than actually giving/receiving them. But then I love to write (and am longwinded!!!) so, the balance of my time is good here :).
4) Made an expense obsolete.
Also salient to realize is that Mr. FW and I didn’t just find a way to save on haircuts, we made that expense obsolete. Rather than trying to stretch out the time between haircuts or use coupons or hunt down discounts, we simply removed this expense wholesale. This approach, in case you’re wondering, is massively easier than trying to perform haircut-savings jiu jitsu every month.
Parting Thoughts (get it?)
Our consumer culture never misses an opportunity to remind us that we’re incapable of doing things ourselves and so had better pay a professional. But you know what? We’re all a great deal more capable of self-reliance than we give ourselves credit for. Our insourcing started small–with painting a room by ourselves. And yours can start small too. Once you unlock the liberation of doing things for yourself, it’s honestly hard to stop. And, oh yeah, you’ll save a ton of money in the process.